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Anthropos Polytropos, Epilogue

Anthropos Polytropos
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters:  Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanov, Bruce Banner, Thor, Amora the Enchantress, Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Happy Hogan.
Warnings: PTSD. Mentions of past torture. Temporary character death that the characters are aware is (probably) only temporary, though it still takes it's mental toll on them.  Mentions of potential child abuse.  Mind fuckery.  Minor self-abuse.  Cliff hangers.  Implied bullying.  Generally dark fic, though there is a happy ending and no one actually dies.  Not Iron Man 3 compliant in the slightest.  If you have any questions about the warnings, I'd be more than happy to clarify as best I can.
Rating: I think I'm just going to leave this at an M due to how dark it gets and some of the themes.
Summary:  He doesn't remember much from before he woke up, but he does know two things.  He doesn't like being called Tony Stark, and he hates Captain America.
Thanks: Many thanks to narwhale_callin for the beta.  Considering I have a long history of beta's dropping off the face of the planet mid-fic, I really appreciate you sticking with me.  <3  Also thanks to pagen_godess, AnonEhouse, jesabele, Teyke, szzzt, TheGatheringStorm, Eternal She-Wolf, beizanten, Redrikki, Chleom, Rueroux,  Wildmage_of_galla, and CeraTay for reviewing and to all those who give kudos.  Special thanks to those of you who have stuck around since the beginning and have left many comments that have brightened my day.  I do appreciate them greatly.
Notes: Well.  This is the end.  XD  Took long enough, I suppose, though it's nice that I haven't needed to miss an update.  That doesn't happen often.  I'm kind of sad to see this end, to be honest.  It's a multinational baby, since I wrote it in the States and typed and posted it in China.

To those that have been reading from the beginning, and to those who are just now stumbling upon it, I hope the journey has been enjoyable, if a long one.  Hopefully the ending has been worth the long road.



Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight

~

Epilogue: The best laid schemes

Steve didn't come back to the hospital for a visit, but everyone else did (even Nick Fury, which for the record, Tony could not have predicted even as a Futurist), so he tried not to be too disappointed. After all, that was four more people than usual who sat at his bedside, and it almost made the hospital stay bearable.

Thor left for Asgard after Tony told him what he'd heard of Amora's plans (The Executioner was apparently one of Amora's minions and not nearly as ominous as he sounded), but he promised to have Heimdall keep watch - and okay, that was a little creepy and Tony hoped 'watching' meant 'looking away when Tony was needing some privacy', but Thor had bounded off before Tony could ask, so he was left to his paranoia.

As it was though, Tony was recovering pretty well. He was glad he'd only been in a coma for three weeks. Atrophy would have sucked.

There was a small party for him when he was finally discharged from the hospital, which Steve had attended - briefly, while managing to avoid Tony completely apart from a polite 'welcome back'. Steve must have been taking ninja lessons from Natasha, because he'd been impossible to track down. It wasn't until he was down in the lab and checking things over (re: showering his bots with attention to make up for being absent for a month, not that he'd admit that) that he really let himself contemplate Steve's strained smile.

Steve was a problem. An interesting one, granted, but still a problem. Out of all the Avengers, Steve was the most solitary. Sure, he got along well enough with the others and the work crews that helped to rebuild the city, but after conferring with JARVIS, Tony realized that Steve never went outside of his own floor beyond work or getting food. Steve drew, destroyed punching bags, and made his own meals instead of eating out. He'd never realized how lonely Steve was. And okay, he'd just lost everyone he'd ever known after his Rip Van Winkle routine, but that didn't mean it was healthy. Captain America shouldn't have to deal with the grief all by himself. Especially not if he's just pushing it away without actually dealing with it. Pushing it down and away.

Tony knew all about bad coping mechanisms. Hell, he was the king of them. And he knew how they backfired when the mechanisms failed. Tony was intimately familiar with that sort of explosion. Granted, he was familiar with most kinds of explosions, but that was beside the point.

He brought up Steve's itinerary after hacking through SHIELD's databanks, glad to see a therapist on there at least once a week. Debriefings, history lessons, working crews, technology lessons... God, that was depressingly boring. No wonder Steve was a wet blanket. He was worse than Puddleglum. Totally a new nickname for anyone who was being grumpy.

Tony could at least take care of the tech lessons, because he could make those more interesting than some junior agent with a hero complex could. And he could get Steve out more. Tony hated art and museums, but if it got Steve out of the Tower, he'd do it. Tony scheduled a few dinners and charity events that Tony had to attend as well, along with two movies and a baseball game. To top it all off, he sent for a full set of the Chronicles of Narnia (older editions that didn't mess with the proper order of the books), because everyone should read them and Steve was a bit precious when he actually understood a reference.

He sent an email with the updated schedule to Agent Sitwell. He could feel the disapproval radiating off his return email, but there was no negative, and Steve's updated schedule was posted a few moments later with all of Tony's changes intact.

"JARVIS, where is Steve right now?" Tony asked.

"Captain Rogers is in his rooms, Sir. He appears to be drawing." Steve's arm was better, if he was drawing, Tony noted with some relief.

"Thanks, J," Tony said, giving Dummy's 'head' one last pat before heading down to Steve's floor. He didn't bother knocking. Technically, he owned the place, so why bother? Besides, JARVIS would have warned him if Steve were in the midst of something private.

Steve was sitting on the plush brown couch Tony had hand-picked after testing the comfy-ness personally, because obviously Steve needed help relaxing. He had a sketchbook in his lap, but his pencil wasn't moving and he was staring at the paper with a lost expression that tore at Tony's arc reactor. He stood for a moment, wondering what to do. Food was always good, but this was a conversation better had privately and Tony was well aware his cooking skills had never progressed beyond the level of a college freshman. It was edible to him, but generally not to the rest of the world. Delivery? Tony pulled out his phone and ordered a half dozen pizzas from his favorite place, wondering if that would be enough considering Steve was a black hole when it came to eating.

Officially out of reasons to keep from drawing attention to himself, Tony sauntered into the room and plopped down next to a surprised Steve. He peered over the notepad before Steve could hastily close it, freezing at what he saw. "That's..."

Steve sighed, closing the pad and hiding the dark Castle from view. Even outside of his mind, the effect of it was almost dizzying. "I was wondering how he'd changed so much, and my fingers just sort of started drawing it," Steve explained, running a hand through his hair. "Stark, what are you doing here?"

Tony flinched at the name, trying to pull himself together after seeing the Castle again. He plastered on a fake smile. "I ordered pizza. You want some?"

Steve glanced at him warily. "It's almost one in the morning."

"And everyone else is asleep, so you should join me," Tony said, waving it off. He didn't mention he'd had to force Rhodey and Bruce out of his lab so they could sleep before he could get some quiet, because that was neither here nor there.

The wariness didn't leave Steve's eyes, and Tony wondered what he'd done to deserve the distrust. Not that he didn't think Steve had a good reason, but usually Tony remembered what he'd done. "Why are you doing this?" Steve asked.

Because Captain America shouldn't be stuck in his living room tormented by the past. "You promised to talk to me," Tony said instead.

Steve tensed, but nodded, getting up to put the sketchbook away. "Did you ever find out who you were waiting for under the desk? Colonel Rhodes said he might know who, but he wouldn't tell me."

Tony flushed, looking away. "It was Rhodey, so I don't know why he didn't just admit it," he said, looking down. Probably to keep from embarrassing Tony. Rhodey could be oddly protective about some things. "It was his bed too, from his dorm room, though the desk was actually downstairs in the lobby. It's how we met."

Steve snorted. "What were you doing under the desk?"

Tony considered a lie. It wasn't like he had to say anything, much less the truth. Steve would believe it if he said he'd been drunk and it'd just become A Thing.

"Not everyone can repeatedly come home with black eyes and go unnoticed. The paparazzi started to get involved, and Dad threatened to bring me home if it kept happening. As much as he talked about how Steve Rogers never ran from a fight, he apparently didn't approve of his son doing the same when abuse scandals started popping up. And I couldn't go back home and deal with living with Howard," he said, hardly aware of the words tumbling out of his mouth. He kept babbling as Steve's head snapped up, his mouth dropping open. "I was fifteen, small, rich, and had a smart mouth. I was probably just easy pickings. But I could still sketch designs or read under the desk, and they never found me there, so it worked out in the end."

"Tony..." Steve said, sitting down beside him again.

Tony smiled at him, easy and relaxed as if getting beaten up regularly hadn't bothered him. "You were getting bullied, and that's all Howard did? He blamed you for it?" Steve continued, sounding horrified.

Tony shrugged. By that point, he and Howard had learned to avoid each other. So long as he lived away from home and stayed out of trouble, Tony could at least pretend that his father was proud of him. "Dear old Dad. He liked me best when I wasn't taking up his attention."

"Tony, I-"

But Tony didn't want to hear it, not from Captain America who got beaten up in random alleys for fun before he was all serum'ed up. So he pushed on, talking over whatever meaningless platitude Steve could come up with. "Anyway, they never found me, but Rhodey did. It took him a few weeks to coax me out, but he just... He wouldn't leave, no matter what I said to him. He kept coming back with snacks, or a new book. Sometimes he'd just sit there and talk. He must have thought I was crazy. Hell, he was crazy for putting up with me. That fact probably hasn't changed much over the years."

Steve remained silent, so Tony kept babbling to fill the quiet. "I eventually let him talk me out. After that, he'd find me there, or I'd break into his dorm room, but I didn't get beat up any more. Rhodey probably had something to do with that too, come to think of it. Actually, that sounds pretty pathetic, so can you just forget I mentioned it? I'm going to check if the pizza is here yet, and you can brood here or whatever you do until it-"

Tony stood up as he spoke, but Steve's hand around his wrist kept him from leaving. He tugged, but Steve only gripped harder. "Um, I need that hand, ya know. For inventing and blowing stuff up, which I could probably do one-handed, sure, but it's easier if-"

"Tony."

"-I've got both hands. And you've been avoiding me since I woke up, and hey, not really a change, but I'm thinking that this whole emo thing you've got going on probably isn't healthy. Not that I can talk, being the king of unhealthy coping - Cap!"

He glared at Steve, who didn't look the least bit sorry about half-yanking Tony's arm off as he was dragged back to the couch. "Last time I asked you, you said you didn't know. Thought you wouldn't want me around after..." Steve said hesitantly, finally letting go of Tony's wrist, even though it looked like he didn't want to. "Why do you hate me?"

Tony winced. That was a valid question, even if Tony didn't want to answer it. "If I tell you, you have to talk about this whole closing off thing," he demanded, since he was really reaching his limits with over-sharing his past. No, scratch that. He'd gone way past that point while still in the dreamscape. Even if he did owe Steve that much, he wanted something in return for it.

Steve tensed, but nodded. Which meant Tony actually had to come through and answer. Damn. Tony looked away, considering acting casual again before deciding against it. Steve might take that the wrong way and he really was trying to be good this time. After everything he'd put Steve through, he deserved that much, and he couldn't afford Cap shutting him out if he said the wrong thing.

"It wasn't anything you did, not really," Tony started, thinking over his words. "It was just... the green-eyed monster, I guess. Not green rage monster, because those are awesome no matter what Bruce says. Even though I sort of don't want to know what kind of lecture the Hulk wants to give me next time he comes out so-"

"Tony," Steve said, a bit of exasperation in his voice. This time Tony snapped his mouth shut, wondering if that counted as an explanation. Considering the confusion on Steve's face, he didn't think so. "You were jealous?" Steve asked.

"You could say that."

"Why?" Steve asked with honest bafflement. "I'm just a kid from Brooklyn. You've got all the smarts and money, and the armor makes up for any difference in strength." And oh, that was cute. Steve really was that clueless about his own body. Not that it was Tony's reason, but he could think of a lot of people who'd be jealous of that alone, yet it didn't even occur to Steve.

Right. There was a question he was supposed to answer. "He kept looking for you, did anyone ever tell you that?" Tony asked, not waiting for an answer as he stared at Steve's sketchbook that rested on the desk across the room. "He never stopped. He went out himself at least once a year, though the expedition itself never stopped. I know the official story is that the brakes gave out, but he always got drunk after coming back empty-handed, and the wreck was the day after he came back from his last visit."

He saw Steve's eyes widen, but Tony pushed forward, not thinking about his anger that Howard had to take his mom with him. Best to just rip the band-aid off in one fast jerk. "He talked about you a lot too. You could always tell he was proud to know you. Me, he could only say it to in a video screen when I was five in a message I didn't even know existed until a few months ago. It could have been staged, I suppose, if he was founding SHIELD like Fury said. Maybe it was a long-term way to keep me in line. Or maybe the disappointment only set in when I was older and still hadn't grown up to be like he wanted. Maybe it was real. All I know is that I spent years looking for that emotion in his eyes, because if he couldn't actually care about me, I could at least make him proud."

Tony closed his eyes, feeling more tired than he ever had with the palladium poisoning. This is why he hated feelings. "It wasn't like I didn't know what it looked like, since I'd seen it so often when he talked about you. Never found it directed at me though."

Tony fell silent for a while, not looking at Steve as he took in all of what Tony had said. Steve's shoulder was broad and inviting, but Tony didn't lean against it like he wanted to. He'd been dealing with this for years, after all. Why start needing comfort for it now?

But when Tony's name fell from Steve's lips, broken and strained in a tone that Tony couldn't stand to hear from anyone, he didn't want to hear it. A meaningless platitude from Captain America, or worse, Steve defending his father - Tony just couldn't handle it right now, not after going through all of that anew. "So yeah, guess that counts for jealousy. But I'm over needing Howard's approval. And yeah, I hated you for a while, but it wasn't your fault. I figured that out sometime after my parents died. It was just the earlier memories were getting through Amora's block better than the later ones, so the feeling of hating you was pretty strong."

He'd actually done a pretty good job of hiding that too, when they'd first met. Sure, they weren't instant 'BBFs Forever!' but Tony had acted maturely. He'd been downright civil, only rising to the bait after Steve had pushed under the influence of the Glow Stick of Doom. He'd mostly wanted to avoid this exact conversation, because Steve really didn't need all of this pushed on him. 'But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane, In proving foresight may be vain. The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley,' he thought to himself.

Those quotes. Tony sighed internally, hoping the others wouldn't realize just how pathetic those were. What he'd told Natasha was true, but it was also easier to interact with a book than with people. Books were predictable, and followed formulas and equations. He could understand people in books, even if he couldn't do it in real life. A plot was the sum of its variables with a set pattern of exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. After college, he'd tried to bury that part of him along with his parents, hiding his habits unless they were useful for getting someone into bed. He never gave up on reading though.

Natasha probably figured it out, but Tony had decided that ignoring her file on him was better for his health a while ago.

He started at the touch on his shoulder, drawing him out of thoughts he hadn't realized he'd gotten lost in. Tony looked up automatically before he realized he was meeting Steve's eyes. Too late. The guilt he found there was almost choking (and that was without the link to feed the emotion to him), so Tony smiled and tried to wave it off. "Christ, Cap. I told you it's not your fault. You were just an excuse. I'm sure Howard would have found a different one if it hadn't been you."

"Tony, stop acting like it doesn't matter! You were hurt because of..."

"Because of Howard," Tony finished for him. "You're a lot harder to keep a grudge against. Besides, I'm not the one acting like nothing matters." Two could play at hypocrisy, and Tony was definitely better at this game than Steve was.

Steve flinched this time, taking his hand off Tony's shoulder. Tony could see how much he needed the touch though. It grounded him to this time, unlike now when he was distancing himself from everything. "Tony, you don't have to keep trying now that-"

"I want to," Tony said. And it was true. He promised Steve in the dreamscape that he'd try to get past those feelings. After putting up with Tony at his worst and still trying to save him, Tony couldn't just back down now. There weren't many people in the world that would do that. This... whatever it was between them, it was worth trying. "Steve..."

"How can you still want to try this when all I did was fail you?" Steve asked, anger building. "I promised I'd get you out of there, that I'd stay and... I couldn't save Bruce and the others. I couldn't even help you. You saved us, in the end."

"You did help," Tony protested, a little surprised by Steve's outburst. "Steve, that wasn't-"

"You believed in me, and I let you down."

Tony's back went rigid as he worked through the probabilities. "You were dead when I said that. Thor-"

"We didn't actually leave right after we... Only Thor, because you were gone from the dreamscape and there was a reaction headache from snapping back too fast," Steve explained, looking ashamed. "We all saw what happened for a little while after we died."

Tony thought back to his own death in Amora's mind, how he'd been able to listen in on her plans even with a hole in his chest. Bruce tracing the phantom scar on his palms. Natasha and Clint watching over him, as if he might break again, and with far more fondness than they'd ever shown him before.

Steve had heard all of what he'd said.

Damn, that was embarrassing. Embarrassing times ten. "Steve, I... I wasn't blaming you. I was upset."

"I left you, even when I promised to stay. I couldn't even do that much," Steve said, looking down at his hands. "What good is Captain America in this time anyway, if I can't do anything right?"

Steve looked distant, like he was miles away instead of sitting next to Tony, and that was a little scary. Steve was alone like that, when he'd always been surrounded by people before the plane crash. James Barnes, the Howling Commandos, General Phillips, and Agent Carter... All of that was lost to him within seconds.

It wasn't like Steve didn't have a team now though, and Tony just had to find a way to make him see that. First, he had to bring Steve back from whatever dark path he'd wandered down.

There was an easy way to do that. Steve was someone who thrived off touch, and Tony was slightly appalled by how little people actually touched Steve since he'd woken up. Too much hero worship, and not enough seeing Steve. That didn't make him feel any less awkward as he leaned over and wrapped his arms around Steve's neck, hugging him tightly. Nope, that was still extremely awkward. Bruce would be so much better at this. Hell, Clint would be-

"Tony?" Steve asked, his voice broken and lost as a hesitant hand touched Tony's back

Shit, he had to do this right. The others would kill him if he broke Captain America more. "You helped me. I don't think I'd have left the desk if you hadn't been there. You kept me alive when I would have died trying to save the others. You didn't fail me. Not me, or Natasha, Clint, Bruce, or Thor. You didn't fail any of us. You didn't fail Bucky either."

"Stark," Steve said warningly.

Shit. Wrong thing to say. "We wouldn't have won the war if you hadn't kept going. You didn't fail him just because-"

"I did," Steve grit out. "I couldn't get to him fast enough. I couldn't-" Steve choked the words off, trembling in Tony's arms. "He fell, and it was my fault."

"You didn't give up after he fell," Tony said, searching for more to say and knowing it wasn't enough.

"That supposed to make me feel better?" Steve asked as he tried to push Tony away.

In response, Tony clung like a limpet. Not that it would really put Steve off if he were determined to get out of the hug, but Tony refused to give up without a fight. "No," Tony said, thinking back to Yinsen's death and the empty feeling of his own failures that accompanied it. The feeling of Yinsen's pride went a long way towards healing that wound and several others, but it still didn't diminish the guilt. "But wasting your life feels like a much bigger betrayal. At least you're doing something they'd all be proud of."

Steve went silent at that, but at least he stopped trying to push Tony away. Except that brought back the awkwardness full force, and silence never sat well with him. Not when he felt like he should be moving, or doing something with his hands, or something more to help, because simply sitting there with Steve wasn't near enough. It took all of his effort not to start fidgeting, and he almost didn't notice that Steve was doing it again, packing everything away.

"No," Tony said, pulling back enough to glare. "That is unacceptable code. That will lead to user interface combustion and cascading system failure, and that sucks, trust me."

"Tony, what are you talking about?"

Back to first names. That was a good sign. "You can't keep pushing it away," Tony said. "I mean, yeah, I've got no room to talk with crappy coping mechanisms, but at least I'm dealing with it! You're not even doing that! You have to grieve sometime. And personal experience speaking here, it will happen sooner or later, usually at inopportune moments. Or in front of a whole group of people on your birthday party after alienating your best friend because you're dying, but hey. I'm a bad example. Learn from my mistakes instead of repeating them."

"Dying?"

"Long story," Tony said, attempting to keep them on topic. "I'll tell you later."

Steve focused on the coffee table rather than Tony. Tony felt just a little insulted, because he was way more interesting than a block of wood. "I can't..." Steve started, bracing himself to continue. "You said wasting your life is the worst betrayal. If I fell apart now, I don't think I could pull back together again."

"Then we'll find a string and tie you back together. No, duct tape! Duct tape is awesome," Tony said, ignoring Steve's confusion. He made a mental note to bring duct tape into Steve's room one night, along with glue and string, because Steve was staring at him like proof was needed. "We'll stick you back together with superglue if we have to. I've done it before with Dummy."

"People don't work like that, Tony," Steve said with something like fondness in his voice.

"Sure they do," Tony said. "Pepper and Rhodey put me back together all the time. And you've got all of us. You just have to let us help. We may not be your old friends, but we still want to help you. The others are much better at it than me, since I'm usually on the other side but - Steve! I - Don't cry. I mean, crying is good. Maybe. Is it? Um, I could get someone else if you-"

"Shut up, Tony," Steve said, pulling Tony back into a tight hug. It felt much less awkward when Steve took control of the hug, which was good because Steve didn't seem to be letting go any time soon.

"Right. Shutting up. I can do that too. I'll just - ow! Okay, okay. Shutting up now." Tony attempted to glare at Steve for pinching him, but the angle was off. What was it that set Steve off? Tony couldn't tell if this was a good or a bad reaction either. What the hell had he gotten himself into?

"I don't know how..." Steve trailed off.

"We'll figure it out," Tony assured him, hiding the panic in his voice. He had no idea what Steve was talking about, but that sounded like a good thing to say. He thought back to Rhodey's first big break-up after they'd met, trying to remember what to do. Which didn't help, because Tony had panicked then too, babbling and offering to buy every kind of donut and sweet or fatty thing imaginable, because it was the only way Tony knew to help cope. Obviously drinking wouldn't work either. How do you deal with waking up one day and finding out everyone you knew was dead?

In the end, Tony remembered Clint's hands on his back, so he tried his best to soothe the tension out of Steve's shoulders. "Is this okay?" Tony asked eventually when the silence was too overwhelming. "It's not weird or-?"

"It's fine," Steve said, his voice sounding almost normal. He pulled back a little, though he still kept Tony close, and Tony could see his eyes were no longer threatened by tears. He breathed a sigh of relief, because Tony really wasn't ready for Captain America to cry on his shoulder, good thing or not.

"Tony..." Steve said, squeezing his shoulder gently, like there were too many words for him to actually speak and Tony was the one thing keeping him grounded.

"Hey, this is... It's okay, right? We're good. That's what friends do. I think? It's what Pep and Rhodey do, so I'm assuming - oh, I... We're friends?" Tony babbled.

A small, almost shy smile crossed Steve's face, and Tony felt his panic ease. "I think I'd like that."

"Great," Tony said, not entirely sure where to go from there. And really, this was a terrible idea. Rhodey could vouch for how horrible a friend he was, and Steve deserved someone less broken, but Tony couldn't bring himself to say all of that. "And, um, sorry about the whole..." Tony made a swinging motion as if he were holding a sword, "...sword thing."

"You were trying to protect me," Steve said. Then he added, "Though it was misguided."

"Touché."

"But I'll still forgive you, Teddy."

"Great. Fine, that's..." The name Steve used filtered through his thoughts. "That's undignified. I'm not the Avengers personal teddy bear. I'm completely un-cuddly. The opposite of cuddly. Prickly! I'm prickly. Not cuddly at all."

"If you say so," Steve said, tugging Tony closer.

"Really? That's how we're playing this, Cuddle bug?" Tony asked, though for all of his indignation, Tony didn't try to pull away.

"You did protect me, and the others," Steve said after a while. "You really are the ingenious hero."

"What?" Tony asked, his face heating up. Oh, for Christ's sake, he refused to blush just because Steve called him a hero. Tony Stark did not blush.

"Odysseus. The ingenious hero who traveled far and wide. Though I think you put it differently," Steve explained as Tony fought his traitorous body from turning red.

"A man of many twists and turns," he replied automatically, wondering where the other line came from. A different translation from the original Greek, maybe? Not one he was familiar with, if so.

"It suits you," Steve said. There was still weariness in his eyes, and his smile was just a little strained, but it felt more real than any other smile he'd seen Steve give. Tony wasn't entirely sure how that expression got turned on him, but he wasn't going to argue. "Welcome home, Tony."

"It's good to be back."

And yeah, what do you know? If coming home now meant returning to his friends and the Avengers... It really was good to be back.

~FINI~
To the Lists.

Memory: Whelp, that's the end.  It feels good to finally be done with it, even if I'm a little sad.  Hopefully it was a good ending, but I'll leave that up to you guys to decide.  I've still got a Big Bang to post (even though that might not be for a while) and a sequel to History Lessons that I'm working on, so it won't be the last you'll hear from me in Avengers fandom.  It'll be a bit strange not posting every Monday morning though.  XD  This fic was a lot of fun to write and post, so I'm glad you guys have enjoyed it.

I might post Tony's list of personality quirks and a list of literary references in a few days.  Several people have been asking for the former, and the latter I decided to do after a few people mentioned they weren't getting many (if any) of the references.  That way, if you see something that interests you, you'll know where to find it.  Other than that, I'll see you when I see you.  So have the final quote of the chapter as we part.  It's kind of a depressing one to end on, but it is one of my favorite poems.

"But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"
-Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"